Roméo Mivekannin: Hosties noires
Galerie Cécile Fakhoury, Dakar presents Hosties noires, a solo exhibition of recent work by Beninese artist Roméo Mivekannin. After The Souls of the Black Folk, the exhibition takes its title from the eponymous collection of poems written by Léopold Sédar Senghor in 1948.
During the Second World War, Black soldiers from the French colonial force in Africa, referred to globally as Senegalese riflemen, were mobilised in the war effort. In reality, the contingent was composed of soldiers from Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso and French Equatorial Africa, Chad and Gabon. Some of these soldiers, particularly those stationed in North Africa, were allowed to settle with women and children, not without causing some tension among their French comrades, who were stationed far from their own.
It is in this context that the images that inspire Mivekannin’s Hosties noires appear. The artist plunges into the archetypes of colonial imagery and is particularly interested in postcards that French soldiers sent to their families in metropolitan France and which depicted the wives of riflemen in the tasks of daily life. Between fantasy of exoticism, colonial ideology and fascination for the other, these images bear witness to the ambiguous relationship between the metropolis and its colonies.
Painting on an assemblage of sheets that have undergone ritual baths to create a particular colour, Mivekannin reproduces in an act of reappropriation the images of these black women who have become an image-object under the mechanical eye of the colonial camera. The space of the painting then becomes at the same time a place of dialogue and confrontation of the imaginary for the contemporary spectator. Elsewhere, in a light obscure work, a suspended installation brings together the faces of Senegalese riflemen painted on newspapers dating from 1944-1945. From one medium to another, the exhibition Hosties noires unfolds like a choral field of voices, giving a privileged place to the archive as a breeding ground for new imaginations.
Pursuing his aesthetic quest, Romeo Mivekannin once again urges us here, with as much subtlety as plastic power, to question the construction of representations of black people throughout history.
Roméo Mivekannin draws his inspiration from photographic archives and iconic paintings emblematic of the history of Western art. From Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Vente d’esclave (1873) to Gustave Manet’s Olympia (1863) and the first photographic portraits of the colonial monarchies of the second half of the 19th century, Mivekannin focuses particularly on the ambiguous representations of Black figures, sources of both fascination and fear, sometimes anonymised, eroticised or objectified and intended for the almost exclusive eye of a male and Euro-centred viewer.
Black acrylic paintings on canvases tinted by repeated elixir baths are thus the place to question a marked iconography inherited from the systems of human trafficking and domination that slavery and colonisation were. Drawing a continuous direct line between past and contemporary history, Mivekannin chooses to take up the facts of these historical representations and subvert their primary narrative in order to construct, somewhat ironically, his own vision of common narratives. “Taking myself as a subject, taking my own body as a subject.”
In his works, Roméo Mivekannin thus questions the invisible and the hidden. He brings to light the workings of representation that carry the systems of domination and introduces a subtle critique, on the borderline between rewriting a collective memory and repairing a personal identity fracture.
Roméo Mivekannin: Hosties noires runs until 5 June at Galerie Cécile Fakhoury, Dakar
December 20, 2021
December 13, 2021